Arkansas News Bureau's Eric Bolin reported nearly two weeks ago that Razorbacks' freshman guard Jimmy Whitt was "likely to transfer" out of Fayetteville this offseason. Mike Anderson said a few days later he didn't expect that to happen. It happened.
In today's press release, Anderson is quoted as saying "although I don't agree with his decision, I respect it."
It's certainly valid to question what Whitt's role would be in the future of the program. Arkansas is bringing in top-rated JUCO guards next season in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon to join Dusty Hannahs. Whitt, who showed flashes of talent but was inconsistent this season, might have continued to come off the bench. Instead, he has chosen to be completely benched while sitting out next season as a redshirt transfer somewhere.
However, quality depth has been an issue for Arkansas. If Whitt continued to develop as many expect, he could have been a solid contributor next year at minimum.
Whitt's transfer opens up a 6th available spot in Arkansas' 2016 recruiting class. The Hogs currently have 5 commitments and could add more with the option to move Manny Watkins back onto walkon status or if another player leaves. With Kevin Stallings' recent departure from Vanderbilt, some will likely wonder if it's possible Fayetteville guard (and Commodore signee) Payton Willis could get a release and join the Razorbacks. I suppose it's possible but have no idea about the interest level from either side. Arkansas did not offer him initially, but they were also chasing Malik Monk, so we'll see.
Whitt's place on the roster also would have helped to keep it in more balance. Without him, the only 2015 recruit left on the roster is Doobie Jenkins, who may qualify for a redshirt because he played only in one game last year. Unless something miraculous happens with Jenkins' development, safe to say that 2015 recruiting effort was a disaster. How much of an impact that will have on the future of the program is unknown. Arkansas' 2016 and '17 classes appear good right now.
Here are some of the things we said about Whitt when the first transfer reports were released:
While Whitt did not have the type of impactful freshman season most were expecting, he did show enough flashes that make me believe he'll grow into a really nice player. Whitt's season started off well. He actually started the team's first 10 games and reached double figures in scoring in five of the first six games. After that point, he seemed to disappear for a while. He simply wasn't very good in January save for a season-high 15 point outburst against Missouri in his hometown of Columbia. He only scored 8 points in the team's next five games that closed the month, including a scoreless stretch in 35 minutes of combined action in three straight games against Kentucky, Georgia, and Texas A&M.
However, Whitt seemed to close the season with positive momentum, reaching double figures three times in February and only going scoreless once. He also seemed to find more confidence in his jump shot. Five of his six made threes on the season were in February. He finished the season averaging 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game.
Anderson's critics will surely be quick to point out that Whitt is Anderson's highest-profile recruit since the 2013 class brought in Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. Whitt was ranked 68th nationally in the composite rankings. A program and coach that haven't thus far lived up to expectations can ill afford to lose this type of potential talent. It would also mean the 2015 recruiting class would be a dismal failure unless Doobie Jenkins ever gets on the court. It was supposed to be a small class with Whitt and Ted Kapita, but Kapita never made it to campus and Whitt could leave after one year. The class suddenly had more openings when Nick Babb transferred and Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls declared for the professional ranks, but the coaches struggled to fill those spots, ending up with Jenkins, senior graduate transfer Willy Kouassi, and putting Manny Watkins on scholarship. By the time Jacorey Williams was kicked off the team later in the year, recruiting season was over.